Posted on : Friday May 1, 2009

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent

Pilgrim's Way Church, Baltimore, Md.

BALTIMORE, Md.—Pilgrim’s Way Church, Baltimore, does not believe children are the future of the church.

“They’re the church of today,” said Ray Thornton, pastor of Pilgrim’s Way. “We incorporate the kids in everything we do.”

The men of the church regularly take the children and youth to feed the homeless at a nearby “shanty town” area in Baltimore where the poor live in makeshift shelters of cardboard and plastic. The group takes big pots of soups, sandwiches and clothes to share. They give testimonies, hand out tracts and pray with the people living on the streets. At first the homeless weren’t very responsive, but as the men and children continued to visit, the residents of the “shanty town” began to come out and listen to the youth sing and talk to them. As the church builds relationships and trust with the downtrodden, those same troubled people are blessing the young people.

“It’s been an eye opening experience for me,” 15-year-old Colliett Teah said. “At first, I’ll be honest, I was even scared to get out of car…but then God gave me the courage. I cried the first time. It was such a shock to me. They had their clothes in bags and they literally had nowhere to sleep. They were sleeping on the ground and it was freezing. Me and other kids were thinking it’s so cold, but this is what they have to put up with every day.

“We tell them about Jesus. Some people walk away. Some turn their heads. We’re never persistent to offend anyone. But some people take in the message. Every time we go there are a handful of people who gives their lives to Christ,” Colliett said.

Her cousin, Bilphena Yahwon, also 15-years-old, had a similar experience.

“The first time I went I didn’t want to interact with the people. I was scared,” Bilphena said. “I was thinking this isn’t my problem. They’re on the street because they’re drinking or doing drugs.

“There was this lady screaming, ‘We want food. We’re hungry!’ I realized they didn’t have food and they were cold. I could go back to a heated car then home to my heated house and drink hot cocoa. They couldn’t.

“I met this lady named Miss Lisa. She’s pregnant. She called me over and gave me a pair of earrings. It was the best gift I’ve ever received in my life. I had an angel necklace and I decided to go back and give it to her. She started crying and said she’d wear it forever.” Bilphena said she and others are now working to gather maternity clothes, diapers and food to help “Miss Lisa” and others like her.

Ray Thornton knows the children and teens helping are being changed for life.

“You need to start the focus on it when they’re five or six-years-old then witnessing becomes a way of life, a second nature,” Thornton explained.

The church disciples the children through a program they call “Wisdom and Knowledge.” The children study their Bible lessons for about six weeks then it’s time for them to get in teams for a game show type challenge. They sit at game “booths” and enthusiastically compete with each other for prizes.

Joyce Thornton, Ray’s wife, works with the Wisdom and Knowledge program. Joyce said once the teens challenged the younger kids expecting to “wipe them out,” but the youngsters beat the teens.

“They whooped the older kids!” Thornton said and he and Joyce chuckled.

Thornton said he invites other churches to participate and come compete with the Pilgrim’s Way kids.

The children also learn through drama. They work with adults to write Biblically based plays and perform them with costumes and props for the church audience.

Another way Pilgrim’s Way is reaching out to kids is through their involvement in a “Big Brothers” program with a local school. The school needed male mentors for some of the boys and six men from Pilgrim’s Way are volunteering. Embrace Baltimore, a North American Mission Board initiative, helped the church by purchasing the mentoring books for training and Earl Gray, Embrace Baltimore’s director of evangelism and leadership development, provided some initial mentorship training.

This summer the church will reach out to youth in the community through a sports camp ministry, facilitated by Embrace Baltimore.